If you didn't hit the malls on Black Friday, don't worry. There's plenty of time to get your holiday shopping groove on, and social media can help.
The lastest trend that seems to be picking up steam is "gift wish list" tools on Facebook, Amazon and eBay, or on specialty sites like Wishzilla and Wists. It's a pretty simple concept: You make a list of presents you would like to receive, and the list can be shared or searched for by friends and family. While it may seem a little awkward to tell people what to buy you, there are many who will appreciate the help, and it is less awkward than getting someone a gift they don't like.
Social media is also a useful way to find out what other consumers think of the products you are considering buying. The best way is to post a message to your network to see if anyone has purchased the product you are interested in buying. You can also go to social media shopping sites such as Kaboodle.com and CrowdStorm.com that are designed to generate dialogue among shoppers and to encourage sharing product reviews.
I recently bought a $70 blender. After using it just two times, smoke started billowing from the motor. But the company wouldn't exchange it for me. If I had read user product reviews online - before purchasing the product - I would have seen the many complaints about the company. I have since added my experience with this product to a couple of social media shopping sites. Major shopping sites like Amazon and Ebay have user ratings as well.
Shoppers can hear about deals and coupons on social media sites. Follow your favorite businesses on Twitter and Facebook, and you're likely to hear about time-limited deals. Boca Raton's Office Depot tweets deals every day, as does Miramar-based Spirit Airlines If you're not looking for a specific company, but just want to hear about good deals, there are many coupon aggregators. Some good ones to follow on Twitter are Cheeptweet, Woot and Slickdeals.
Group buying and group gifting are two compelling social media concepts that haven't caught on yet. Group buying is when you put together a group of people to buy items at a lower price. Group gifting is when your friends pitch in together to buy you a gift. For a group buying site, check out Groupon.com, and for group gifting, take a look at Lolligift.com.
In the spirit of the season, this column wouldn't be complete without mentioning charity. Follow your favorite charities on social media sites and stay up-to-date with what they are doing. Another way you can show your support for the charities you care about is to support them on awareness hubs like Change.org, Care2, or the Facebook Causes application.
Maybe in five years, we'll wonder how people did their holiday shopping without social networking sites.
Seth Liss is SunSentinel.com's News Community Manager. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out some of Seth's favorite shopping sites:
Woot.com: This site has one featured deal every day, chosen by Woot staffers. A recent addition to the site is a list of deals found and voted on by Woot users. It has mostly technical gear.
Overstock.com: This is probably the most popular site for finding bargains. It features surplus merchandise from vendors at low prices.
Pricegrabber.com: It regularly displays hand-picked bargains, good product information with both expert and user reviews and comparison shopping.
Dealhack.com: A really good aggregate of hand-picked deals for anything from DVDs to outdoor gear.
Google Products (formerly known as Froogle.com): You can search for anything and get a variety of products and prices.
TravelZoo.com: Sends out a weekly newsletter of 20 travel deals on airfare, hotel, vacation packages, cruises and rental cars. With over 18 million subscribers, they have to be doing something right. And even if you can't afford a trip this year, it's fun to dream.
Craigslist.com: It's a big online garage sale. There are many deals to be had on used items of all sorts. The downside is when buying from an individual, there are no guarantees. The upside is you're helping the environment by re-using items.
Zappos.com: If you're looking for shoes, this site has all kinds of deals and is noted for its customer service.
Etsy.com is great for people who like unique things. Almost everything sold on this site is handmade, and by shopping there, you get it directly from the source.